Archive for the ‘Green Patents’ category

New Prius Has Silicon Sun Roof By Kyocera

June 18th, 2009

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Kyocera recently announced that it is supplying solar modules for Toyota’s new solar ventilation system, an optional feature on the new Prius introduced in Japan last month.

The modules will be made using the company’s Reactive Ion Etching (RIE) technology, which creates microscopic ridges on the surface of the solar cell using plasma and reductive gases.  According to Kyocera’s press release, the ridges enhance output and conversion efficiency by facilitating better absorption of sunlight. 

The process also yields a “high level of aesthetic quality” and “stylish appearance” by providing a uniform dark navy blue color.

This RIE process is covered by Kyocera’s U.S. Patent No. 7,128,975 (’975 patent), entitled “Multicrystalline silicon substrate and process for roughening surface thereof.”  The ’975 patent is directed to a multicrystalline silicon substrate and a process for roughening the substrate’s surface using an alkaline aqueous solution etching step and a dry etching step.

According to the ’975 patent, this process overcomes the challenge of forming uniform textures in the irregular crystal orientation of multicrystalline substrates and reduces reflectance:

By this method, fine textures can be uniformly formed independent of the irregular orientation of the crystals of multicrystalline silicon. In particular, reflectance can be more effectively reduced in solar cells using multicrystalline silicon.

The ’975 patent describes a silicon substrate (1) formed by the patented RIE process as having textures (2), or fine textures (22).  According to the ’975 patent, the ratio of line a (connecting individual peaks of the fine textures (22)) and line b (connecting the two end points 23 and 24) is less than 1.1, which indicates that the heights of the peaks of the fine textures (22) are even.

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Congress Backs Strong Green Patents in Climate Change Talks

June 14th, 2009

The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously last week to pass an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act that establishes U.S. policy in opposition to any global climate change treaty that would weaken intellectual property rights.  (see the National Journal article here)

The bill increases resources and training for enforcement of intellectual property rights.  Under the bill, the U.S. Secretary of State would appoint ten new IP attaches to serve in U.S. embassies or other diplomatic missions.  The bill gives priority placement to countries with particularly poor IP regimes. 

The amendment, offered by Reps. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and passed 432-0, provides an unequivocal statement that U.S. policy favors strong IP rights for clean technologies as part of any climate change treaty:

it shall be the policy of the United States that, with respect to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the President, the Secretary of State and the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations should prevent any weakening of, and ensure robust compliance with and enforcement of, existing international legal requirements as of the date of the enactment of this Act for the protection of intellectual property rights related to energy or environmental technology. . .

The amendment is a timely policy message as diplomats are preparing for key negotiations as part of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen in December.

The amendment comes on the heels of the launch of the IDEA Coalition, an alliance of business and industry leaders formed to educate policymakers and the public about the importance of strong IP protections in promoting clean tech innovation. 

One of the Coalition’s first orders of business was to urge Congress and the Obama administration to maintain strong IP protection for clean tech innovators as the U.S. engages in international talks related to the UNFCCC.  Looks like a quick success for the Coalition right out of the box. 

According to Carl Horton, Chief IP Counsel for GE, the amendment was in large part a result of the IDEA Coalition’s activities.  He told me the Coalition briefed Congressmen Larsen and Kirk “regarding the risk to IP protection for green technology at the UNFCCC negotiations.”

Advocates of strong IP protection are pleased with the Larsen amendment and the message it sends about the U.S. position on IP rights in clean technologies.  Horton thinks the amendment “sends a powerful message about the necessity for strong IP protection to drive investment and innovation in new green technologies and the need to endorse such IP protection as the means to protect the US jobs created by such green technologies.”

OriginOil Provides Full Service Algae Support

June 11th, 2009

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OriginOil, Inc. (OriginOil) is a Los Angeles company developing a full range of technologies to improve the processes of algae growth and oil extraction.  OriginOil’s methods may substantially reduce the amount of energy necessary to extract oil from algae (see the Matter Network story here).

Unlike some algae biodiesel companies who only focus on the extraction step, OriginOil’s innovations span a much broader approach.  The company’s suite of technologies is covered by several pending patent applications, which “apply to the whole life cycle of algae production, not just extraction” according to OriginOil’s President and CEO Riggs Eckelberry. 

OriginOil’s U.S. Patent Application Pub. No. 2009/0029445 (’445 application), is entitled “Algae growth system for oil production” and is directed to systems for growth and processing of microorganisms such as micro-algae. 

The systems attempt to duplicate the optimum natural growth promoting environment for algae, including thorough exposure to carbon dioxide, growth promoting admixtures, exposure to light and extraction.

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The key to this Quantum Fracturing process is breaking down water, carbon dioxide and other nutrients into micron-sized bubbles.  The increased surface area of these bubbles facilitates high absorption of carbon dioxide and nutrients by micro-algae during the growth phase.

Several as yet unpublished patent applications are directed to other aspects of OriginOil’s algae technology, including:

an application filed in 2008 directed to the Helix Bioreactor, which optimizes delivery of light to algae by providing light at closely spaced intervals within a photobioreactor;

an application filed in 2008 directed to the company’s Modular and Scalable Growth System, which facilitates large scale algae production through stacking of multiple Helix Bioreactors into an integrated network; and

an application filed this year directed to a Single-step Extraction Process, which combines Quantum Fracturing with electromagnetics and pH modification to break down cell walls and extract oil in one step.

OriginOil recently announced the filing of an international or PCT patent application, which Mr. Eckelberry said combines several of the company’s technologies and is now its consolidated “lead application” going forward. 

With this holistic approach, Eckelberry said OriginOil’s business model is to help other companies make algae and provide full support for its customers producing the oil.  The company’s new partnerships include one with Desmet Ballestra and one with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, wherein the latter will team with OriginOil on algae scalability issues.

Epistar Infringes But Can Challenge Validity of Philips LED Patent

June 7th, 2009

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Philips Lumileds Lighting Co. (Lumileds) and Taiwanese LED maker Epistar Corp. (Epistar) have a history of litigation involving Lumileds’ U.S. Patent No. 5,008,718 (’718 patent).

The ’718 patent is entitled “Light-emitting diode with an electrically conductive window” and is directed to an LED with a transparent window layer on top of the active semiconductor layers.

The transparent window layer (24) overlays the LED’s active p-n junction layers (21, 22, 23) of AlGaInP.  The transparent window layer (24) is made of a different semiconductor than the active layers, with a low resistivity and a bandgap greater than the active layers.

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As a result, the window layer (24) is transparent to light emitted by the p-n junction layers and therefore generates more uniform light emission and improves the efficiency of the LED.

In 2005 Lumileds filed suit against Epistar and United Epitaxy Company (UEC) in the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) alleging infringement of the ’718 patent.  Later that year, UEC merged into Epistar and ceased to exist as a separate entity.

Epistar has continued to manufacture certain UEC LED products, as well as its own AlGaInP LEDs.

Prior to the merger, back in 2001, UEC had settled another lawsuit with Lumileds involving the ’718 patent, and the settlment agreement provided that UEC and its successors could not challenge the validity of the patent.

A third lawsuit between Lumileds and Epistar in 2003-04 also ended with a settlement agreement.  Under that agreement, Epistar took a license to make particular LEDs, and with respect to those products, promised not to challenge the validity of the ’718 patent. 

The agreement was silent with respect to non-licensed products, preserving Epistar’s right to challenge the ’718 patent’s validity if Lumileds were to sue Epistar for infringement of other products in the future.

In the ITC case Lumileds moved for a summary determination that Epistar could not challenge the validity of the ’718 patent and argued that the merger with UEC bound Epistar to the UEC settlement agreement, which prohibited such a challenge.  

An ITC administrative law judge (ALJ) granted the motion, ruling that the UEC-Lumileds agreement precluded Epistar from contesting the validity of the ’718 patent with respect to any UEC or Epistar product.

Although the ALJ later acknowledged there were two separate settlement agreements at issue, by that time the ALJ found it was procedurally too late to change his ruling.

Epistar was subsequently found liable for infringement of the ’718 patent, and the ITC issued a limited exclusion order excluding from entry into the U.S. Epistar’s infringing LED products.  The exclusion order included downstream packaged LEDs containing the infringing LEDs regardless of the manufacturer or importer of these products.

Epistar appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  Last month, the Federal Circuit reversed the ITC rulings on the validity preclusion and the exclusion order.

The Federal Circuit discussed the two separate settlement agreements of UEC and Epistar and held that, with respect to its own products, Epistar could challenge the validity of the ’718 patent:

This court finds that Epistar’s right to contest validity of the ’718 patent with respect to its products is governed by its own separate agreement with Lumileds. . . .When Lumileds settled with Epistar, the settlement agreement addressed only the licensed products and thereby preserved Epistar’s unrestricted right to contest the validity of the patent in other contexts.  This court cannot allow Lumileds to escape its agreements due to a merger that does not disturb its contract with Epistar.

Epistar could be precluded from challenging validity only as to the UEC products:

Epistar (as successor to UEC) may not contest the validity of the ’718 patent with respect to the UEC products that it inherited in the merger.

The Federal Circuit also vacated the exclusion order and instructed the ITC to reconsider the order based on recent precedent holding that the ITC lacks statutory authority to exclude imported products by entities not named as respondents before the ITC. 

The court found that Epistar does not itself manufacture downstream products; instead other foreign entities incorporate the infringing LEDs in packaged LEDs and LED boards for importation into the U.S.

Metabolix Bioplastics Are Cleanly Made and Biodegrade

June 4th, 2009

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Metabolix is a Massachusetts biotech company that makes alternatives to petrochemical-based plastics. 

Metabolix’s bioplastic technology includes polymers known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) and enzymes that make these polymers.

According to this Seeking Alpha article, PHA are “linear polyesters produced in nature by bacterial fermentation of sugar and lipids.”  In other words, PHA are made by microoorganisms through photosynthesis.

CleanTechnica reports that Metabolix is working with the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program to develop its bioplastic for military use in food packaging.

The company also formed a joint venture with Archer Daniels Midland called Telles to market its bioplastic, which it sells under the brand name Mirel.

Some of Metabolix’s key patents and applications include U.S. Patent Nos. 6,620,869 (’869 patent), 7,202,064 (’064 patent), 7,208,535 (’535 patent) and U.S. Patent Application Pub. No. 2008/0275208 (’208 application), which are directed to PHA biopolymer compositions.

These inventions include improved thin film formation through PHA pellet compositions (’869 patent and ’535 patent) and methods of making PHA compositions that can be readily extended to incorporate additional monomers by mutagenesis or genetic engineering of PHA-producing microorganisms (’064 patent and ’208 application).

Metabolix recently announced that its Mirel bioplastic resins have received the OK Compost Home certification (provided by Belgian inspection and certification firm Vincotte), which means that the materials will biodegrade in home composting systems of varying temperatures. 

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Its materials previously received the OK Compost certification for industrial composting.  (read about the Vincotte OK Compost certifications: vincotte_cb_05.pdf

Unfortunately, Mirel bioplastics are not yet cost competitive with plastics made from petroleum (Mirel sells at $1.50 per pound versus 70 cents per pound for traditional plastics), but the company believes that many customers will pay a premium for its cleanly made, compostable materials, especially in the disposable plastics market.

UK Intellectual Property Office Fast Tracks Green Patent Applications

May 31st, 2009

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The UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) has launched an initiative to give priority to patent applications directed to technology having environmental benefits.

The initiative was announced this month by David Lammy, Minister for Intellectual Property, and took effect on May 12th.  Instead of the current average of 2-3 years for an application to get through the UKIPO, an application could be granted in just 9 months under this scheme.

The UKIPO press release describes the new procedure this way:

Accelerated search and/or examination of the patent application will be made available to any patent applicant who makes a reasonable assertion that the invention in the patent application is one which has some environmental benefit.  The application will be fully searched and examined by a technically-qualified patent examiner. 

Applicants can choose which aspects of the application process they want to accelerate, including search, examination, combined search and examination, and/or publication. 

From looking at the UKIPO Fast Grant Guide, it appears that the UK process does not require shifting much of the searching and examination burden to the applicant, as is the case with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office’s expedited examination scheme.

The U.S. Petition to Make Special procedure, which is available in a number of instances, including for inventions relating to environmental benefits and energy development or conservation, requires the applicant to conduct a pre-examination search, submit a copy of the references deemed “most closely related” to the invention and describe how the invention is patentable over those references. 

These requirements can substantially increase the up front legal fees associated with filing a patent application and discourage applicants from taking advantage of the expedited process in the U.S.

Patent Suit Asserts Duramax Engines Under Kruse Control

May 28th, 2009

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Kruse Technology Partnership (“Kruse”) is an Anaheim, California partnership that owns several U.S. patents relating to its higher efficiency and cleaner burning diesel engines.

Last month Kruse filed its First Amended Complaint against DMAX, Ltd. (“DMAX”), an Ohio diesel engine manaufacturer formed as a joint venture between GM and Isuzu. 

The amended complaint (kruse_amended_complaint.pdf) alleges that DMAX’s Duramax engines infringe three related Kruse patents:  U.S. Patent Nos. 5,265,562 (“’562 patent”), 6,058,904 (“’904 patent”) and 6,405,704 (“’704 patent”).

The asserted patents are entitled “Internal combustion engine with limited temperature cycle” and are directed to Kruse’s “Limited Temperature Cycle” technology, which limits peak combustion temperatures in direct injection gas and diesel engines. 

The Limited Temperature Cycle injects fuel in multiple increments both before and after ignition.  According to Kruse’s web site, such injection of partial quantities of fuel reduces the combustion temperature, boosts thermal efficiency and reduces certain chemical emissions.

The asserted patents claim this process and describe an engine incorporating the invention.  The engine (10) comprises a block (12), a cylinder head (14) and a cylinder (16) having a piston (18). 

Fuel is supplied to the engine (10) by a fuel injection system (36).  The engine (10) also includes an air induction system (26) having an air intake valve (28) in the cylinder head (14).

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One key feature of the process is the maintainance of a proper fuel/air mix in the engine to reduce the temperature and the work of compression.  According to the ’904 patent, the fuel injection system (36) precisely regulates this fuel/air mixture for combustion and exhaust emission control.

The complaint requests that the court issue a permanent injunction against DMAX and award Kruse compensatory damages for the alleged infringement.

Nano a Nano: Rivals Spar Over Quantum Dot Patents

May 23rd, 2009

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Nanosys is a Palo Alto nanotechnology company specializing in high performance inorganic nanostructures, including quantum dots.  Quantum dots are nano-scale semiconductors that emit near-monochromatic light when subjected to light or electrical stimulation. 

Among the many applications of quantum dots are diode lasers, LEDs and solar cells, and Nanosys recently announced a new photovoltaics division called QD Soleil to focus on the solar field.

Nanosys is the exclusive licensee of several patents owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology relating to quantum dot technology.  These include U.S. Patent Nos. 6,861,155 (’155 patent), 6,322,901 (’901 patent), 7,125,605 (’605 patent, 6,821,337 (’337 patent) and 7,138,098 (’098 patent).

Last month, Nanosys sued its Manchester, U.K. rival, Nanoco Technologies (Nanoco), and Nanoco’s U.S. distributor, Sigma-Aldrich (Sigma), alleging that their quantum dot technology sold under the brand name Lumidots infringes these patents (nanosys_complaint.pdf).

The asserted patents include two patent families: the ’155, ’901 and ’605 patents are entitled ”Highly luminescent color selective nanocrystalline materials” and are directed to nanocrystal particles having a semiconductor core and a semiconductor coating that emit light in a narrow spectral range.  The core consists of cadmium sulfur, cadmium selenium or cadmium tellurium, and the coating is zinc sulfur or zinc selenium.

The ’337 and ’098 patents, entitled”Preparation of nanocrystallites,” are directed to nanocrystallite manufacturing methods.  The ’337 patent describes the method as follows:

The method includes contacting a metal, M, or an M-containing salt, and a reducing agent to form an M-containing precursor, M being Cd, Zn, Mg, Hg, Al, GA, In or Tl.  The M-containing precursor is contacted with an X-donor, X being O, S, Se, Te, N, P, As, or Sb.  The mixture is then heated in the presence of an amine to form the nanocrystallite.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, and Nanosys is requesting compensatory damages and a permanent injunction against Nanoco and Sigma.

New Alliance’s Big IDEA: Strong IP is Essential for Green Innovation

May 17th, 2009

In a timely push to demonstrate the critical role intellectual property (IP) is playing and will continue to play in the development of clean technologies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and business leaders will launch the Innovation, Development & Employment Alliance (IDEA) this Wednesday, May 20, 2009 (idea_launch_press_release.doc).

IDEA’s mission is to educate policymakers and the public about the fundamental role of IP rights in promoting innovation in the clean tech space.  The Alliance asserts that robust IP protection is needed to encourage investment in clean tech research and development, create green jobs and find solutions to the world’s energy and environmental challenges.

IDEA’s immediate priority is to urge Congress and the Obama administration to maintain strong IP protection for innovators as the U.S. engages in international talks related to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

I spoke with Caroline Joiner, the Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC), who expressed concern about the “anti-IP push” of the UNFCCC and called the talks “the IP battle of the year.”

What worries Ms. Joiner and other members of the Alliance are calls coming primarily from developing countries to weaken IP rights in energy efficiency and environmental technology.  Even the current U.S. Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, suggested weakening IP protections, advocating a “very collaborative” effort:  “by very collaborative I mean share all intellectual property as much as possible.”  (see the IP-Watch op-ed by David Hirschmann, President & CEO of the GIPC).

Advocates of this approach see a strong patent system as a barrier to technology transfer, especially in developing countries, and call for exceptions to the system such as compulsory licensing.  

However, their premise – that IP rights hinder tech transfer of clean technologies to developing countries and emerging markets – has been refuted recently by a European Commission report that found no evidence of any such IP-related barriers (see my post about the report here). 

The EC report found that there are hardly any clean tech patents in developing countries, and the high cost of implementation in these countries is more likely due to the immaturity of the technologies than to patent rights.  The report actually concluded that strengthening patent regimes in emerging markets could stimulate both local innovation and transfer of technologies from foreign patent holders.

IDEA has invited members of Congress and other policymakers to the launch event, which will be held at the National Press Club in Washington this week.  Ms. Joiner said the format will be a “roundtable discussion” of these issues.  The Alliance members attending the launch event include:

David Hirschmann – President & CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center

Andy Cefranic – Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems

Carl Horton – Chief Intellectual Property Counsel, General Electric

Bill Keith – President & CEO, Sunrise Solar

Susan Mann – Senior Director of Intellectual Property Policy, Microsoft

Japan Leads Electric Vehicle Patent Filings; Australia Sees Jump in Green Patents and Eco-Mark Applications

May 16th, 2009

There are a couple of recent stats and trends relating to green IP from the other side of the globe to report. 

First, as discussed at greentechmedia and Tech-On!, a survey of global patent applications relating to “electric propulsion vehicles” (defined as electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles) by the Japan Patent Office concludes that 70% of applications in this category are owned by Japanese applicants.

According to the survey, Japanese applicants accounted for 76% of the 9,034 applications filed between the years 1995 and 2000 and 69% of the applications filed from 2001-2006.

From Japan we turn south to Australia, which has seen trademark applications in the energy sector jump 250% in the last five years along with a substantial rise in clean tech patent applications (15% for solar and 50% for “clean coal” technology).

The Innovation Minister Senator Kim Carr discussed these trends in an Australian Labor Party Media Statement released on World Intellectual Property Day in late April (see Senator Carr’s press release here).

Thanks to the Gippsland Friends of Future Generations blog for its post on these green IP trends from down under.